Current Magazine

The Accidents Just Keep on Coming

Posted on the 01 June 2014 by Smudger @ChristopherSm73
A couple of weeks ago I wasted my time arguing a point on TheKorean's blog comment's section regarding accidents in Korea.  My point was that we are under no obligation to judge the reason for accidents occurring in different places equally.  Some countries are more likely to have accidents because of their culture than others and I think culture plays a huge role in the many of the accidents we see in Korea, both major and minor.
However, one would think that if certain aspects of a culture did cause more regular accidents, this would show-up in a greater number of accidents generally recorded and witnessed, the frequency should be greater.  I was challenged by a fellow commenter on TheKorean's blog to show that this is the case.
The Accidents Just Keep on Coming
Keeping a record of the number of accidents that occur in different countries must be tricky, especially as some overly-bureaucratic countries, (like mine) will record almost anything as an accident.  I have my doubts that all minor accidents are reported at work - or anywhere else - in Korea.  One thing that would be recorded fairly reliably would be the deaths from accidents, and Korea in fact does have the highest accidental death rate among major developed countries (source NYTimes):
"In South Korea, more than 31,000 people, including 3,000 students, die every year in accidents, accounting for 12.8 percent of the country’s total annual deaths, the highest rate among major developed nations. 
Those episodes include everything from car accidents to fires"

According to Asia News Weekly, Korea also has a 6 fold greater number of workplace fatalities than Australia also, despite having half the population.
One can't also help but notice the alarmingly high number of high-profile accidents and safety issues since the Sewol disaster, at a time when one would think people would be extra careful.
Asiana Jet Ignores Safety Warning
Fire in Bus Terminal
Fire in Hospital
Fire in Homeplus Supermarket
Subway Crash
Subway Fire
Lebanese Ambassador Dies in Car Crash
There were other incidents involving a building collapse (not the North Korea one) and a bus crash that I can't find the links for.  On top of this, now 2 divers have died recovering bodies from the Sewol.  The fire in the hospital, on the subway, and in the supermarket even occurred on the same day.
Of course it could be that people are looking for accidents more now after the Sewol disaster, but there hasn't seemed to be any trouble in finding them.
Fire seems to be a recurring theme in many accidents and as a teacher, and having heard other teacher's experiences in Korea, what goes on in schools makes me concerned.  I am not convinced with my school's fire drill procedure and many other teachers I have spoken to agree with me and say the situation is similar in their schools. I remember fire drills in England being somewhat different.
In England, sometimes the fire bell went off by accident, and when it did we followed the same routine; we evacuated and lined-up in our year classes on the school field.  Our teachers then checked to make sure no one was left behind.
Worryingly, in my school, everyone knows when we are having a fire drill, and when it occurs everyone goes outside.  They get into their classes, but no one checks to see if everyone is present.  Even worse when we have an unexpected fire alarm, everyone stays sitting in class and looks confused until, after a few minutes, the alarm is switched-off.  If there were a real fire, it would be an incredible stroke of luck if it happened when scheduled, more likely it would arrive unexpectedly and all that time waiting to be told that, "no, this is serious this time", could result in lost lives.
All this tends to back up what much of us see here on a day to day basis on the roads and elsewhere and one must come to the conclusion that Korea has a culture of unsafe practices and bad safety habits.  I think it is all too convenient to blame a few bad eggs and the government, but the problem goes deeper than that. The root cause of it all is something worth debating over; in my own opinion there are a combination of factors:
1. A speedy economic rise from poverty to opulence has given the country the appearance of being highly developed, but in reality they are behind in many aspects.
2. Rigid hierarchies and respect culture make clear communication in times of crisis more difficult.
3. Rigid hierarchies make disobeying unsafe orders more difficult (I want to make it super-clear that I do not think this played a part in the students staying below deck in the Sewol disaster, but I think it has played a role in other high profile accidents).
4. Korea simply has not had enough time to evolve good safety habits because of their speed of development.
5. Too many Koreans have a disregard for people outside their family or familiar others, and this causes a lack of care and consideration for people they don't know.
6. The enforcement of laws is weak in Korea, which encourages many to bend rules and regulations because they know they can get away with it.
7. The desire to gets things done quickly (to save time and money) overrides concern for, or blinkers many to the well-being of others.
8. Sometimes a lack of individual thinking and responsibility makes questioning unsafe practices or orders of superiors difficult.
I am positive that what I am saying is not news to many learned Korean people who realize there are problems to be solved.  How to make the necessary changes is a different matter, however.
I'm afraid it now almost seems silly to make the case that the everyday habits and practices of Korean people (I would define this as an aspect of their culture) are playing a part in their propensity to get into accidents, because it is seems so obvious.  All these accidents and deaths aren't always just random events that happen from time to time in any country, they are not solely down to one or two evil people, and they are not the sole responsibility of the government to sort out.  A nationwide consciousness raising effort is needed that the government need to encourage and all Koreans need to accept.  These accidents are not something the government alone can cure, the culture of safety across the whole country has to change and there is much work to be done.

Back to Featured Articles on Logo Paperblog

Paperblog Hot Topics